In our age of information and high-resolution photography, other countries are instantly at our fingertips. A plethora of readily available online resources and the reality of student debt almost make the idea of leaving home seem unnecessary and/or too expensive. But for the same reasons that we travel, studying abroad is one of the best decisions you can make as a student.
As humans, we are learning all the time. When we find ourselves in new and unfamiliar contexts -- a market in Germany or train station in Osaka, for example -- even the smallest interactions can become significant lessons. Regardless of how much research you can find about a foreign country, there’s no substitute for what you can learn by actually living there, and engaging in the everyday routines and customs that create culture. That's nothing to say of what you’ll learn about yourself in the process.
Studying abroad is important because it’s an experience that will change you forever, not only as a student but also as an individual. Your time overseas will teach you so more than what’s on the syllabus, giving you invaluable opportunities as well as insight and global perspective. When the world is your classroom, you’ll gain an unparalleled education.
As someone who has studied in Japan and England, I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who’s interested in visiting other countries to go as a student. Your worldview will be enriched and shaped by the challenge, and you’ll return home with even more than souvenirs.
The experiences you’ll get studying abroad can be grouped into three main categories that I’ll talk about below: Cultural Experiences, Academic & Business Experiences, and Life Experiences. Read on to learn why each of these makes study abroad important for every student.
Related: 10 Real Benefits of Studying Abroad
You'll have cultural experiences
Unlike a short vacation, when you study abroad you have the chance to see what life is really like in another country. The encounters you have as you shop for groceries, ask for directions, or walk through neighborhoods will teach you more about a place and its people than any textbook or guidebook could. By going beyond the tourist stops, you will obtain personal knowledge of your new city, the people who live there, and perhaps even a bit of its history. Living like a local is one of the best ways to understand a culture.
If language acquisition is one of your goals, there is no better way to improve your skills than spending time among people who can teach you natural speaking patterns, colloquialisms, and other earmarks of a native speaker. Immersion is great for language skills, and it will also teach you about the country with a personal perspective. Interacting with people and partaking in the daily rhythms of life in that country will give you rich, firsthand knowledge that can’t be found anywhere else.
You'll expand your academic & business experiences
In addition to the subjects you’ll study while you’re overseas, you can gain skills to carry with you into your future, whether you’re intending to go on for more education or into the workforce. As a student, you’ll be learning how to balance your studies with the everyday concerns of living in a country that’s not your own, which can be formidable at times when it comes to transportation or currency.
While you adapt to your new surroundings, navigate city streets, and build relationships, you can identify your strengths and weaknesses and improve on them. Time and money management, problem-solving, and organization are all valuable skills that not only look good on a resume but will also serve you well wherever you go. Language and cross-cultural communication skills are also valuable assets.
Studying abroad may also give you the opportunity to take courses from experts in your field of study or visit sites where groundbreaking work is taking place. It’s a great way to look at your studies from a different point of view, gain an international understanding of your field, and take advantage of resources that might not be available at your home university.
You'll gain life experience
Above all, studying abroad is important because of the life experience you’ll gain as a result. Studying abroad will change you as a person. Whether you study for a short amount of time or an extended one, living in another country as a student will mean you will come home having tried new things, met new people and gained a more global perspective while striving for academic success. Those efforts will continue to influence you beyond your time overseas, impacting the ways you learn, work, and live.
When you study abroad, you will have experiences that can’t be found anywhere else, and the memories you’ll bring home will stay with you your whole life. Stepping out of your comfort zone to live in a foreign country will give you the confidence to continue growing and pushing your limits when you return.
While you are studying abroad, you may learn habits and skills you wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. You might discover a new passion or a part of the world you didn’t know could feel like home. You may also make connections to people whose lives will now be part of yours no matter where on Earth you go.
Where will you go?
Whenever you travel, you never return as the same person. All these experiences will challenge you and help you grow in skills and knowledge. Engaging with a foreign culture, speaking its language, meeting its people, and walking its streets will impact you for years to come. As author Sue Fitzmaurice once said, “You must go on adventures to find out where you belong.” Study abroad is one such adventure and a vastly rewarding one in so many ways.
This post was originally published in October 2013, and was updated in March 2019.